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This is what shooting should be all about

Phil Moorsom on the evolution of a syndicate/shooting club that personifies what shooting should be all about

The Rough Rovers

The Rough Rovers. I can only imagine this is the club salute

Having written the Rough Rovers articles for Sporting Shooter over past five years I was initially disappointed to hear it was no longer going to exist in its own right. However, as a keen reader of Sporting Gun I was delighted to hear that the magazines were joining forces to produce a bigger, better and wider-reaching publication.

For those of you not familiar with the Rough Rovers and the articles I write, we are a syndicate or club (I’m still not sure which) that was set up 10 years ago to seek out varied, affordable and down-to-earth shooting all over the country. Having lived and worked abroad for a good few years I was lucky enough to get back into shooting through joining our local DIY clay club, the odd invitation to a driven day from my father in law, and a very good friend’s father who ran a brilliant small shoot I got involved in.

The Rough Rovers. Cheap and very cheerful is the order of the day

Being self employed with a young family, a mortgage and a house to renovate, there was never any money spare to spend on shooting. Then at the end of one January I was invited along to a rough day on a shoot in Wiltshire. Four of us were shooting over a pair of Italian Spinones, a pair of Vizslas and a Weimaraner. None of the woods and ground we covered had been shot for a year and there was an abundance of hare, roe deer and muntjac everywhere.

On the day I managed to shoot five pheasants, a brace of partridge, two pigeons and my first woodcock. It remains one of my best day’s shooting and made me realise that walked-up shooting was exciting, varied and more immersive that the driven days I had done to date and, importantly, was a form of shooting I could afford.

So for the following season I gathered together a handful of shooting friends from the clay club and a few other locals and arranged several walked up and rough days, and thus The Rough Rovers was born. We are now about to embark on our tenth season and after have put together a comprehensive calendar that includes a wide range of driven, mini-driven and walked up days, along with some duck flighting and popular wild bird trips all over the country.

Walked-up shooting at its best. Even the dog gets a day out

Over the years we have built up a fantastic group of guns who are committed to the enjoyment of every day out in the field and appreciate the importance of all involved whether beating, picking up or shooting. For many The Rough Rovers is a way of shooting with different like-minded people on a range of estates and farms, unlike a traditional syndicate where one will often shoot with the same people over the same ground every other Saturday.

Many of our members do shoot in or run their own syndicates, which is bonus for us as we often pick up the odd day during the season when they need to generate some extra cash for the kitty. In my opinion our small syndicates are the true lifeblood of shooting in this country. Not only do they provide affordable and accessible shooting for many, but more importantly it is a crucial way to bring the next generation into the sport and pass on the traditions, knowledge and fieldcraft that are integral to ensuring the future of shooting.

With a glut of birds, the Rovers are hoping for some cheaper outings

The past few years have been a real challenge for many shoots, and it looked as if this season was going to be plain sailing for a change. However, a perfect financial storm resulting from the aftermath of the pandemic, Putin’s war in Ukraine and the transition following Brexit have meant that spiralling costs affecting just about everything have inevitably meant an increase in the price of shooting. When I started to put together our calendar for the up-coming season I was shocked by the price per bird we were being asked to pay on some shoots. Prior to the pandemic our lot had just got used to around £40 per bird and suddenly we were being asked to pay from £52 to £74 at places we had been shooting for years.

Knowing our members as I do, I knew this was going to be a real issue for many who are passionate and dedicated to shooting and see it more as a way of life than a hobby, but have a limited budget. We were all made fully aware of the predicted increase in costs of food, gas and poults, but it did feel to me and many others that there was a domino effect in the way shoots were pricing their days. One of our favourite small shoots looked at what their high bird neighbours were charging and priced themselves accordingly. After a frank conversation with the owner (and a slightly embarrassed keeper) I explained that regrettably we would not be able to take any days this season even at the reduced rate they offered us.

Nothing goes to waste!

Unfortunately this story was repeated across quite a few of our regular haunts and I have to confess to being worried as to how I was going to even start to put our calendar together. On speaking to our members, many initially felt outraged at the increased prices and that they were being taken advantage of by the shoots, especially after a couple of seasons of unwavering support. The result has been that pretty much everyone has had to adjust the amount of shooting they do this season and examine the type of days they take.

It has been quite sad to see, as some members have opted not to join up this year and take a break from shooting completely, which I do hope is not a permanent decision.
The result has been that we have a reduced number of driven days this season, with many opting to stretch their budget a bit further and shoot more mini-driven days, ranging from 50-100 birds, and boundary days of 20-40 birds. Our back-to-back wild bird trips to Scotland, North Wales and Cornwall have also been more popular, currently costing less than a modest sized driven day. I do find it encouraging that we have more people interested in these smaller days, getting back to the roots of shooting.

Another aspect of this is that many are focusing on working their dogs to make up for their lack of shooting. We always encourage people to bring their dogs out on our smaller days no matter what their ability. Everyone is a bit more relaxed on these days if something does not go quite according to plan. I shoot over terriers so I am the most forgiving of all.

This season we have taken on some ground for teams of four guns to shoot over their own dogs. It is made up of three large areas of ground on an estate where we shoot a couple of driven days. It’s a bit of an experiment, but everyone who has signed up jumped at the chance of some proper rough shooting over their dogs.

There is no doubt that bookings for many have been slow so far this year; I have never received so many calls from shoots who are only 60-70% sold. Many have decided to cut back on the number of days, putting fewer birds down and cancelling orders of poults from the game farmers. Inevitably with a glut of birds we should see prices start to drop and already many shoots are offering hugely discounted overages to those who committed to booking days early. One hopes that for next season market forces will have done their bit and the price of shooting will come down. Overheads have not risen as sharply as predicted this year, but who knows what will happen in the next 12 months.

My glass is always three quarters full and I am confident that enthusiasm for bookings will, as always, increase after the Game Fair and the Glorious Twelfth. We have our Tenth Anniversary Charity Clay Day this weekend, which I know will ramp up the anticipation for the season ahead. There are 14 teams of four shooting six 100-bird flushes and everyone is already getting extremely competitive and overexcited. We are lucky enough to be kicking off our tenth season in style with a driven grouse day on 12 August at a small, secret place nestled in between a couple of renowned grouse moors up north.

We have a load of other exciting and varied days booked in for the season ahead, including seven new shoots, which we are always keen to find to keep members happy.

Provided this article goes down well I shall be writing each month in Sporting Gun about our progress throughout the season and focusing mainly on the walked up, boundary and wild bird days that we have planned all over the country. If you would like to know more about The Rough Rovers and think you might like to get involved, do get in touch and – more importantly – if you know of a good shoot that would be happy to host a very relaxed and enthusiastic team of guns on any size or type of day, we are always looking for new venues.

I wish everyone the best of luck for the season ahead. Personally I cannot wait to get going again for what promises to be a very busy season. There is certainly going to be no shortage of birds, so get out there, make the most of it and enjoy every day you are lucky enough to be out in the field.